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You Are a Snob
No one likes a snob. He lowers his salmon-colored Financial Times to register disgust with your every-colored USA Today. Picking up his detailed Maserati Quattroporte GTS (with sport package), he sighs as you bounce into the car wash with your 2008 Honda CR-V. He lives in a better neighborhood, his kids go to a better school, and his dog is a pure-bred shipped in from an artisanal kennel in Hungary.
Being called a snob is one of the worst insults you can offer to a class-denying American. That’s why CEOs brag to their employees about flying coach, celebs hang out with sick commoners at the local children’s hospital, and multimillionaire politicians suck down corn dogs like carny folk. (Note: None of these rules apply to The Donald, for he laughs at the iron laws of political physics.)
But the dirty little secret is that everyone is a snob. Hopefully not about many things, but always about something. Wherever you fall on the income scale, there is at least one area in which you will not skimp. The F-150 driver in rural Michigan who scoffs at the fools driving Chevy pickup trucks. A self-described redneck in Kentucky who only drinks Basil Hayden’s bourbon. The stoned surfer who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Quiksilver tee.
As for me, I’m a snob about a couple of things, but especially coffee. I might not live in a mansion or commute to Ricochet HQ on my Gulfstream, but I will delay paying my water bill in order to get beans shipped from Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago. And I wouldn’t think twice.
A book titled Trading Up: Why Consumers Want New Luxury Goods — and How Companies Create Them discusses how the vast majority of Americans of all income levels will treat themselves to something special:
America’s middle-market consumers are trading up.
They are willing, even eager, to pay a premium price for remarkable kinds of goods that we call New Luxury — products and services that possess higher levels of quality, taste, and aspiration than other goods in the category but are not so expensive as to be out of reach.
Consider Jake, a 34-year-old construction worker earning about $50,000 a year, whose passion is golf. It took Jake a year to save enough money to buy a complete set of Callaway golf clubs — $3,000 worth of premium titanium-faced drivers, putters, and wedges — although he could have bought a decent set from a conventional producer for under $1,000.
As I said, my snobby vice is coffee. Even if I was living in a box under a freeway bridge, if a businessman walked by with a tankard full of 7-11 Hazelnut Blend, I would shake my head and think, “what a loser.”
How about you: what are the one or two areas in which you’re a complete snob?Published in General
This entire post could segue very nicely into a bit about fair trade coffee, farm to fork dining, vehicles purchased based on their carbon footprint and a whole host of other environmental causes célèbres of the moment. The ultimate snobbery of the day, you are after all saving the planet.
Shoes. I cannot help but shake my head every time I see a man wearing a nice suit ruined by a cheap pair of bostonian square toes I want to wretch. Oh, and fused sport jackets. Learn the beauty of full canvassing peasant!
Snobbery is the wrong word for many situations. “Preference” or “Dislike” of an alternative isn’t necessarily snobbery. I like Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee. I buy it because in the same price range, I think Maxwell House is swill. But I don’t thumb my nose at people that drink it. I just don’t like it myself.
Snobbery? Snobbery is an Apple decal in the window of your Prius. Snobbery is tutt-tutting while reading the Wall Street Journal while sneering about those kinds of conservatives. Snobbery is not just preference for something “superior”, but disdain for those that don’t share that taste.
Real snobbery is proof that we’re blessed with abundance. Maybe too much abundance. People that can afford snobbery don’t have to worry about toilet paper running out at the state store before it’s their turn in line.
Be still my heart. Do I know you?
L.L. Bean dress shirts and Dockers dress shoes. (I look down on the fools who buy such items at Nordstrom.)
New model Jeeps. I refuse to wave at those people in Fiatmobiles and 4-door Hummer wannabes posing as Jeeps.
A few of the Marx Bros. films dealt with this nicely.
Yet if one has a preference for a Brand is not snobbery if done with respect to the choices of others. And then there is “Climate Change !” The New, New Scientology cult.
Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
Levi’s Jeans above all others.
The superiority of my (long lost) 1988 Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
Never flying First or Business (unless someone else is paying)
French food over Italian, always
French wine over all other, almost always
really good butter
The United States. Still a better country than any place else in the world.
And wine. If the grapes weren’t grown in the Mosel or Tauber Valley, all that comes of them is rotted grape juice.
Why hasn’t the word pretentiousness entered the discussion yet?
Tube amps, Fender mostly.
I actually wrote an essay about the business dangers of snobbery in this book, which for some unknown reason included me:
Which I’ll excerpt here, because it’s Friday and I can:
“Hate to be Him”
Let me ask you a question: if someone gave you, say, 50 million dollars today, would you think that’s a lot of money? I’m not ashamed to say that personally speaking, I would.
But yesterday I was lunching in a local establishment, and I overheard two guys in t-shirts talking about a recent big screen release.
“Yeah, you know, it kinda bombed, man,” one of them said with a kind of sad, slightly disparaging tone of voice. “I mean, it only made, like, fifty million dollars.”
The other dude nodded sadly. “Fifty million!” he scoffed. “How embarrassing! That guy’s career is, like, dead.”
“Hate to be him,” said the other one.
“Guys,” I said, interrupting their conversation. “Can I get my turkey sandwich?”
You see, I was at a local sandwich shop, and the two guys with such lofty and inflexible standards about what, exactly, constitutes success in the entertainment business were behind the counter, stuffing pita bread and slicing turkey for what I’m guessing was roughly $9 an hour.
And it struck me that this kind of thing happens a lot in Hollywood and, probably, everywhere there are lots of dreamy young people with towering expectations of entitlement – people scoffing at what are actually large sums of money just because they’re not huge sums of money. People calling something a failure just because the sky didn’t open up and rain lucre on everyone involved in the show or the movie. Of course, it’s one thing to have this attitude from the deck of your beach house in Malibu – if you’ve ever had a hit, you’re qualified to judge. But it’s quite another to be in your 20’s looking down your nose at something when your hands are spreading mayonnaise and mustard on my turkey sandwich.
Years ago, when I was a young screenwriter, I found myself at lunch with a couple of older producers. They were all funny, cynical guys – nice to me but sharp and competitive with each other. And each one of them had a number of giant hits to his credit.
At one point during lunch, I made a passing, dismissive remark about one of the most famous movie flops of all time, Howard the Duck. I can’t remember what, exactly, I said, but it was in the same vein as my sandwich dudes. Something along the lines of, Boy, I’d hate to be the guy who did that movie.”
The conversation stopped. The producers, who up to that moment had been sparring and jabbing each other, all looked at me with incredulity.
Finally, one of them spoke up.
“What are you talking about? That movie made millions. Don’t say stupid things, kid. Make a movie yourself. Make a hit movie yourself. Then, maybe, you can derogate.”
My face got hot and red with shame. I sputtered my apologies. They all smiled and shrugged. And one of them added: “Don’t worry about it, kiddo. You’ll learn. The thing is, the trick to moviemaking is to make money no matter what. Even on a flop, to use your word. I made a movie once that cost thirty-six million dollars. It made eight million back. Technically, the movie lost twenty-eight million dollars.”
His eyes suddenly twinkled.
“But somehow,” he said, with a huge grin, “I ended up making six million. Do you get it?”
I didn’t, really. And still don’t, unfortunately. But I’m trying.
And that’s my advice, for entrepreneurs coming out of a fancy school: it’s almost impossible not to shake your reflexive snobbery, your hard-won expectation that everything you touch will be gilded and glamorous.
But building anything – a television show, a business, an iPhone app, whatever – takes a certain amount of grubby ambition. It takes humility. It takes a willingness to do something that sounds unfancy and unglamorous and risk the most status-killing thing of them all: failure.
In any endeavor, it’s not failure you should fear. It’s snobbery.
Electric guitars. Mine are Fender, except for one Rickenbacker. Gibson is also acceptable. Squier (Fender’s budget brand): blecch!
(OK, I own a Squier, but it’s okay BECAUSE IT’S A PROJECT GUITAR!!!)
I use only Krusty Brand home pregnancy tests.
I solve this quandary by not owning a nice suit. I can get by with pretty much any shoes with the suit I own.
Yeah, but what distro? Are you a Ubuntu hipster? (“It has that cool African name!”). Are you a Slackware purist? (“It’s the only real Unix-like system”). Are you a Gentoo guy? (“No, really, I’m ‘leet because I watch hours of compile scroll during setup”).
Software is one place where real snobbery does live.
Thrice have I earnestly sought to buy a Fender and was wooed by an Ibanez. Closest I’ve ever come was one Mexican Tele that sounded exactly as rough and tough as it should have but still played like a dream.
Well, I said “Apple” and “Prius” in the same sentence, so that’s the same thing, right?
Mint, until I bought a mobo that refuses to play.
I wouldn’t call having a few premium product choices being a snob. Even low-priced products are premium to a lot of low income folks, who just want to treat themselves, albeit in a more moderate fashion. My “snobbish” choices are:
o Favorite beer: Grolsch ($9 for a 16 oz four pack, and worth it!)
o Bennet’s tartar sauce
o Prime Choice steak sauce
o Old Spice cologne, deodorant, after shave
I can probably think of some more of my “snobbish” simple pleasures, but I have to go to the StadCave and get ready for the football games tonight. Oh! One more:
HD plasma TV in the basement . . . woohoo!
1. Watches. Baume et Mercier. (Rolexes are tacky.)
2. Pearls. Oriental not cultured. Preferably inherited.
Ubuntu on my “lie in bed and watch Netflix” laptop, because only Ubuntu is Netflix-compatible.
Debian on any other laptops or desktops that don’t need to be able to access Netflix.
TinyCore for the old Pentium III I use as my home server.
Tube amps or nothing!
I have been to the town where Grolsch is made. Not a bad beer.
Bob’s Big Boy Bleu Cheese.
I agree with this. I’d say that I’m snobbish about plenty of things, in that I generally don’t settle for the alternatives… but I’ve also been to Seattle, where you actually get looked at differently by people who won’t settle for whatever it is you’re doing. In that respect, I’m not really a snob about anything at all. I have quite a few expensive tastes, but if I’m talking to someone who enjoys generic versions of the same things, we’ll talk about it and I’m far more likely to go out of my way to blend in rather than appear better.
Except for television. I rag on my friends who love television because it is such a colossal waste of time.
I aspire to own an 80’s Wagoneer and fill it with kids and a dog. Only a Betsy Ross flag birthmark could make me feel more American.
I had a point, but Douglas at #4 said it first, and better.
That said, I’m trying (and thus far failing) to think of something about which I am a snob, although it could be argued I’m a snob about the fact that I’m not, if one wants to get meta about it.
Somewhat related: roundabout 2012 when the subject of Mitt Romney having a car elevator came up, I went off on someone who scoffed at it: “Who cares that he has a car elevator? That’s friggin’ awesome! Just because I don’t expect to ever want or need something like that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it when someone else does.”
Grolsch: Number one on the list of beer names that are as fun to say as they are to drink.